Should New Teachers Teach Difficult Classes?

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Stressed Teacher

A Teacher

I'm a teacher and sometimes I'm a combination of more than one voice. I'm sharing the things that are going on in our schools - things that need to be talked about and brought to your attention via anonymity - meaning I'm safe from attribution...
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Should new teachers be left alone to teach the most challenging classes?

This is a question asked by a second-year teacher who, with permission, has granted permission to share her story. Coincidentally, I also received this message from an experienced teacher who has returned from overseas.

Alarm bells!

Having successfully completed my newly qualified teacher year, I was looking forward to my next with a more challenging class and with a number of children who had complex learning needs, including one child who was recommended to have 24/7 support the year before, but still didn’t even have one-to-one support.

The alarm bells started to ring, however, my NQT mentor reassured me that she thought I was capable, so I began the year confidently and excited by the challenge. As the term set in, I realised that the class were more than a challenge and I didn’t know whether my second-year knowledge could undertake this task.

With a part-time SENCO who eventually went off sick, I really struggled to find the resources to support the learning needs in the class. I would spend my evenings and weekends researching behaviour strategies, differentiation and specific learning needs to equip myself to meet the many of the daily challenges. I ended up putting my teaching assistant with the child that needed one-to-one support. This left me fire-fighting with the rest of the class which has six other children who have complex needs.

Is this normal?

The behaviour policy included children being sent to the senior leadership team for isolation, and once the children got there, they often got to colour in and eat sweets! It was a confusing message for those in my class …

Early into the first autumn term, I asked my head teacher to come and observe the class, which they did. I received no feedback from the observation other than, “The class were not as bad as I thought” and that myself and the teaching assistant were being negative. On reflection, I remained positive in the lessons and this was an easier way of addressing the problem.

Towards the end of the first term, the shadowing SENCO covered my class and went to the head teacher and questioned whether they had “Any idea the type of class [you have] left me with?” The Headteacher responded to explain that the pupils were “A nightmare cohort” and that they were aware of the situation. With this in mind, the shadowing SENCO encouraged me to go and speak to the head teacher to explain how I was feeling. I was exhausted, anxious and heading for burnout.

How is this making you sick?

Feeling hopeful, I went to speak to the head teacher who responded with hostility.

“If you’re drained, why are you taking the children to the Christmas Light Switch on? They are never going to be the perfect class you want them to be.”

When I became emotional and explained that I thought it was beginning to make me ill, she sarcastically responded:

“How is this making you sick?”

Following on from this, the head teacher asked me if I wanted to be referred to Occupational Health. In my head I was thinking, “Hang on, I don’t think the problem is with me, I just need some help with the class; a listening ear and extra support for the children who are entitled to it would be nice.” I was becoming a scapegoat for the senior leadership team and my mental health was becoming the focus rather than the class.

Experienced teacher friends spotted what was happening and gave me the confidence to stand up for myself. More recently, a friend was offered a life coach to deal with stress at work. The occupational health suggestion and ‘offering me more time out of class’ (but you must fill out and sign a form) felt like the school was simply ‘dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s’ ready for Ofsted rocking up with their wellbeing agenda.

I didn’t need the extra time out of class, I didn’t need a yoga session after school and I didn’t need occupation health. I and the other teachers simply wanted to be shown compassion when we were brave enough to ask for help.

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”

9 thoughts on “Should New Teachers Teach Difficult Classes?

  1. I’m sorry but that I believe that newly qualified teachers should have to experience difficult groups like you have described BUT with support every lesson from those teachers/managers who deliberately avoid spending time with such students. You learn from experience, you learn from having to find ways to cope, you learn from your feelings in such circumstances. Yes it does make you feel anxious and stressed but we have all been there on many occasions. You have to man up and be realistic. Spending your leisure time searching strategies and lesson plans to suit such students is a waste of time. You need to be getting fit and energized to be able to cope with those kids both physically and emotionally. Never forget that they are children no matter how demonic some may behave. You are the adult, they are the kids. Give them small manageable tasks that always lead to successful outcome. Nothing differentiated at first. Everyone does the same basic task. They mark each others’s work. They take responsibility. You talk the least amount possible. They have the least amount possible to read on the smart board. Everything bite size, no rush, no panic! They’ll soon be on your side once they experience success THEN and only THEN can you add a bit of extra challenge. And a,ways have a secret stash of sweet treats that have to be earned not given out just because they demand (golden rule…no one must ever ask for a reward!) Works ever time! Go for it! Be brave! Be ready to get them on your side no matter how long it takes. And ps….your management team sucks!

    1. ‘man up’! Who are you? Piers Morgan? No, new teachers should not be given bad classes. Give those classes to the teachers sitting on the highest pay in the school, then let NQTs and new teachers observe, take tips and learn from experts. The students who are naturally bright should be given to new teachers, so they can all learn together and a new teacher can settle in (3 years should do it, to get established).

  2. Assigning a new teacher to challenging class is bold and courageous decission made by the school management. If the school management takes care for the teachers and the well-being of the students bold decisions should have all the support in order to be successful. Teachers Team Building! School Management support and committment! Instead of Parents’ Meetings employ Parents-Teachers Team Building Meetings.

  3. In my second year of teaching (decades ago), I moved to another secondary school after a temporary contract. I was given the class that no-one wanted: Fourth Year (Y10) Set 4 for English. I was given no guidance except for a visit to the English stock cupboard. My first feedback from the head of English was ‘I hear you’re having trouble with Four Set Four). Rather an understatement.

    The experience nearly did for me. I couldn’t ‘man up and be realistic’ as Chris above suggests. And why should I have been expected to do so? My class knew they were getting a raw deal: inexperienced teacher, no base. I would have chucked it in but I needed the money.

    After my feedback from the head of English, I exploded. I demanded a permanent base and adequate resources. A brilliant piece of advice from an experienced teacher saved me. She suggesting reading to them. My class and I came to a deal: they would work for half the lesson and I would then read to them. Slowly they came round. By the time they left they were calling me mum (some would consider this disrespectful, but it was better than F…off).

    This isn’t a justification of my baptism of fire. No young, inexperienced teacher should ever be put in such a position particularly with little support.

  4. I am an NQT with a difficult class. I agree with Chris however I also think nothing has prepared and no one is helping me. The only thing that gives me confidence is I hear other senior teachers struggling and even the SENCO. What’s worse is I gave her my strategies which is I make booklets for them with little tasks and I come round and stamp well-done after they complete each task. So I think I have become aware no one can help me because they don’t even know what to do. There are no resources available that are scaffolded enough for them so I make all these booklets – but I do reuse them as revision long starters for my other years. Coming from a business background it is quite a shock dropping my pay by 4x to be faced with manipulative, aggressive, energy draining, infuriating and just such challenging behaviour you do wonder have I really given up a good job for this. I have hit and miss lessons and after the terrible lessons where I go home and cry I have to pick myself up and start with a blank slate the next time. Teaching kids science doing practicals and trying to explain things to teenagers with a reading age below five….?!

  5. This is what happens when you have right to work states, and no child left behind law. Teachers are being force to keep unruly students in their classroom, and the administration will not deal with the misbehaving child. The administration leave the classroom’s because of the behavior problem, and become administration and pretend there is no behavior problem.

  6. I can only talk from my experiences, but I have seen NQTs struggle with challenging classes, I have struggled, I’ve seen SLT struggle, and ultimately I’ve seen all of the above fail at some stage. Some learners, (for a million different possible reasons), are simply unable to accept support and guidance. But, if the person (or people) leading the school are up to the job, they will lead. They will do this through supportive measures, great CPD, investing time in their staff, they will be able to model great teaching and problem-solving, and they will inspire you to find a way. If you don’t have this support, then find a school where you can grow and where you can thrive. Challenging classes are only part of the overall challenge… finding the right school is just as difficult! The fact that you have taken it upon yourself to search for answers shows that you care. Children, no matter how difficult, can tell if you care or not. Good luck and go and find a school that will support and appreciate you.

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